A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY

Distributed by: HBO

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine who also just happens to be a fire buff told me about a documentary about firefighters that he thought I might want to see.  Knowing a lot of firefighters, volunteer and paid, and having been to a couple of fires (no, I'm not a firefighter, but I've been inside a burning building), I have always had a healthy respect for what these men and women do.  I could think of nothing I would want to do more than hear stories of some of the most experienced firefighters in New York.  And so it was that I sat in front of the screen and watched A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY.

            First airing on HBO in September 2014, A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY begins with actor Steve Buschemi.  A firefighter for four years in the 1980s before going on to become an acclaimed actor, Steve Buschemi shares a bond with fellow firefighters that those of us who have never been on the job would ever know.  As Buschemi says, though he can no longer put out fires, being a firefighter has always been something that resonates with him and something he always finds himself coming back to.

            Buschemi goes on to interview a number of firefighters, chiefs, officers and retirees in an effort to give those of us who don't fight fires for a living an idea of what makes these men and women tick.  We learn why some of them joined the fire department and how hard it was for women and black Americans to join the FDNY.  We learned about what rookies go through in training and the good natured rookie pranking that goes on in firehouses.  We also learned about the not-so-good natured stuff that happened to some of the first blacks and some of the first women who got on the job.

            Next we are treated to stories about some of the worst fires in New York City, fires like the 23rd Street fire and collapse, the Happy Land fire and more.  We learn what it is like for firefighters to witness their first deaths or be in a situation where their own life is in danger.  We learn about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that firefighters quietly suffer - no one can understand what they've been through except another firefighter, so why talk to anyone about it. 

            It's interesting to note that these firefighters remember traumatic events in their careers like it was yesterday, some even getting choked up when remembering events of over forty years ago.  It's touching to see just how much they actually care about the people their attempting to rescue and how surprised they find themselves when they are hit with those feelings out of the blue.

            And then, we reach the most traumatic loss of life for the New York Fire Department - September 11, 2001.  We hear from people who were there, people who spent time sifting through the rubble of the Twin Towers looking for survivors or bodies, often times members of their own family.  Steve Buschemi came back to Engine 55 in order to help in that task.  We hear from one retired member who happened to be on vacation in New Mexico at the time and lost quite a few people she had worked with at Ground Zero.  And then we learn of the aftermath of September 11th - not just the losses of the day, but the losses to come of those who have gotten sick long after being at Ground Zero on the day of and the days after the attacks. 

            As I sat mesmerized by this documentary, I couldn't help thinking that Steve Buschemi and HBO perfectly encapsulated what being a firefighter is all about in this documentary.  Those who have never been on the job or don't know anyone on the job may be surprised to learn about the training, the brotherhood, the trauma.  They may be wondering why anyone would want to run into a burning building prior to watching this.  They may still wonder after watching the documentary, but they will definitely understand that it takes a very special person to do what FDNY firefighters do every day, risking their lives - physical, emotional and psychological - to keep people safe.

            A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY is an incredible documentary that any fireman can be proud of.  It definitely is something I would recommend to firefighters, buffs and anyone who knows someone on the job or even someone considering the job.  Steve Buschemi may be an actor now, but he will always be a member of the brotherhood that is the FDNY and who better than he to interview these valiant men and women who risked it all to save lives.


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